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May 15, 2008 

Suicide blast kills 12 Afghan civilians, 6 police
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber disguised in a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar in western Afghanistan on Thursday, killing six police and 12 civilians, officials said.

UN rapporteur slams 'complacency' on Afghan killings
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - There is "staggeringly high" complacency in Afghanistan about civilians being killed by international troops, police and even secret militias led by foreign intelligence units, a UN rapporteur said Thursday.

UN envoy: Foreign intelligence services behind spate of mysterious killings in Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI Associated Press / May 15, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Foreign intelligence agents are leading secret, deadly raids on militant suspects in Afghanistan and shirking responsibility when innocent civilians die, a U.N. rights official alleged Thursday.

Is Nato repeating the USSR's Afghan mistakes
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 15 May 2008
Twenty years ago today the tanks and armoured cars started to rumble north out of Kabul as the Soviet Union began its withdrawal from Afghanistan after eight-and-a-half years of war.

WHO confirms 'charmak' disease in Herat Province
KABUL, 15 May 2008 (IRIN) - Confirmed cases of hepatic veno-occlusive disease (VOD) - also known as "camel belly" or 'charmak' disease - in Gulran District of Herat Province, western Afghanistan, have surpassed 190

Russia, China, India seek Afghan anti-drug "belt"
By Conor Sweeney Thu May 15, 5:53 AM ET
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - China, India and Russia called on Thursday for the creation of a security belt around Afghanistan to halt the spread of heroin.

In Afghanistan, a road doesn't run through it, yet
Thu May 15, 2008 3:49am EDT
(Corrects "road" to "run" in headline) By Luke Baker
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 15 (Reuters) - Spend 30 minutes talking to a U.S. military officer in Afghanistan and chances are he or she will mention one factor as crucial to the stability of the country: roads.

Afghans, troops pave way to safer road
Work being done on route by locals could mean difference between life and death for Canadian soldiers
KATHERINE O'NEILL May 15, 2008 The Globe and Mail
BAZAR-E-PANJWAI, AFGHANISTAN -- Road construction at this time of year is a fact of life around the world, including war-torn Afghanistan.

Afghan army units ready for bigger security role: commander
By Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Canada's painfully patient strategy of letting the fledgling Afghan army take the lead in the field is paying dividends and could soon expand to include more troops and territory, said the outgoing commander of Canadian troops in the region.

China seeks an Afghan stepping-stone
By Tariq Mahmud Ashraf May 16, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
The resurgence of great powers' interests in Central Asia in recent years is reminiscent of the Great Game that ensued in the region in the 19th century between Czarist Russia and Imperial Great Britain.

3 Italian soldiers wounded by roadside bomb in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-15 20:34:22
ROME, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Three Italian soldiers were injured in a roadside bomb attack near the Afghan capital of Kabul Thursday, according to Italian Defense Ministry.

U.S. Has Detained 2,500 Juveniles as Enemy Combatants
By Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 15, 2008; A11
The United States has detained approximately 2,500 people younger than 18 as illegal enemy combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a report filed by the Bush administration with the United Nations

Pakistan Truce Talks May Boost Afghanistan Attacks, NATO Says
(Bloomberg) By Ed Johnson May 15, 2008
Truce talks between Pakistan's government and militants in the tribal region may be causing a rise in terrorist attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, NATO said.

Strategic Policy Institute urges more troops for Afghanistan
ABC Online, Australia 15/05/2008
A key strategic policy body is recommending that the Federal Government boost troop numbers in Afghanistan, only weeks after another Australian soldier was killed there.

Sabit threatens to name and shame MPs
www.quqnoos.com Written by Qadeem Weyar Thursday, 15 May 2008
Attorney-general says MPs, some accused of murder, must still face trial
ATTORNEY-General Abdul Jabar Sabit has said 22 members of parliament accused of committing various crimes, including murder and land-grabbing, have yet to face trial.

Men slice female presenter's arms with razors
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Thursday, 15 May 2008
Second attack on local journalist; governor says press freedom exists
MASKED men have used razor blades to slice the arms and hands of a female journalist in Herat on the same day that media groups expressed concern over the welfare of journalists in the province.

Afghanistan: What hope is there for the lost children of the bazaar?
Their trade is almost as old as the hills that encircle the Afghan capital. But the lives of Kabul's rug-weavers reveal the fault-lines that scar this proud, complicated nation – and which condemn its people to poverty, desperation and addiction
Independent, UK By Deborah Orr Thursday, 15 May 2008
On Chicken Street, under the serene azure sky, it is almost possible to imagine that the last 30 years never happened. Kabul's craft market is open for business, its rows of glass-fronted, two-storey shops replete with the iconic wares

'20,000 people hooked on drugs in last year'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Shakeela Ibrahimkhil Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Many of the addicts are refugees returning from Iran, drug centre says
THE NUMBER of drugs addicts in the country has increased by 20,000 people over the last year, according to the Nijat Drug Addicts Treatment Center (NDATC).

Education ministry jails students and teachers
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Protests against low wages and overdue salaries lead to 17 arrests
POLICE have arrested 17 teachers and students for going on strike to protest low wages and the government’s failure to pay salaries on time.

Kabulis told to stop using water heaters
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Department says using energy-saving light bulbs will bring power back
KABULIS should stop using water heaters and electric stoves if they want to have electricity in their homes at night, the capital’s department of electricity said yesterday (Monday).

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Suicide blast kills 12 Afghan civilians, 6 police
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber disguised in a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar in western Afghanistan on Thursday, killing six police and 12 civilians, officials said.

Twenty-two people were wounded in the blast, which happened near a police station in the Del Aram district of Farah province. The policemen were inspecting vehicles on the road outside at the time.

"So far, 18 people, including police and civilians, have been killed," Farah's governor Rohul Amin told Reuters by telephone.

Citing officials near the site, Amin said the bomber was wearing the all-enveloping burqa robe commonly worn by Afghan women.

President Hamid Karzai who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban's removal in 2001, condemned the attack and said it was "obscene" that the bomber had used a burqa as a disguise.

"The enemies of Afghanistan, by misusing the women's veil, put on display their unmanliness," a palace statement quoted him as saying.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, told Reuters the attack was carried out by a member of the group, which is leading an insurgency against the government and foreign troops. He said the bomber was a man and was not wearing a burqa.

The al Qaeda-backed Taliban largely rely on suicide attacks and roadside blasts in their campaign to overthrow Karzai's pro-Western government and eject foreign forces.

The militants are most active in southern and eastern areas near the border with Pakistan, but have also carried out attacks in several major cities, including the capital Kabul.

Two police vehicles were destroyed in Thursday's attack, the latest in two years of rising violence in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

Six of those killed were police, including a senior officer, another provincial official said, adding the rest of the dead were civilians.

In another incident, Taliban militants killed two policemen when they attacked a checkpoint in Qalay-I-Zal district in the northern province of Kunduz on Wednesday night. A mobile phone mast was also destroyed in the same district, Security Commander General Mohammad Saleh told Reuters on Thursday.

"There are small insurgent groups active in the area and we are working to eliminate them," he said.

Elsewhere, in the northwestern province of Badghis, Afghan security forces killed 11 Taliban militants on Wednesday, a regional security commander said.

U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban's radical Islamic government after its leadership refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

More than 12,000 people have died in violence since 2006, despite the presence of more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military and nearly 150,000 Afghan security forces.

(Additional reporting by Tahir Qadiry; Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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UN rapporteur slams 'complacency' on Afghan killings
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - There is "staggeringly high" complacency in Afghanistan about civilians being killed by international troops, police and even secret militias led by foreign intelligence units, a UN rapporteur said Thursday.

International forces have killed about 200 civilians in operations in the past four months, while Taliban and other rebels have killed around 300, said UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston.

Secret units controlled by foreign intelligence services operating with impunity have also killed civilians in anti-rebel operations, and police had carried out unlawful killings, he added.

"Afghanistan is enveloped in an armed conflict. But that does not mean that large numbers of avoidable killings of civilians must be tolerated," said Alston, a professor of law in New York who is independent of the UN.

"The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high."

Most of the 200 civilians reported killed by international troops, who are often working with Afghan forces, died in air strikes, Alston said.

He said he had seen no evidence of foreign soldiers violating the law or human rights but surprise night-time raids -- which often result in civilian deaths -- did "raise issues."

The forces were "surprisingly opaque" about accounting for the incidents, Alston said.

They had told him figures for civilian casualties caused by troops were "either not available in Afghanistan ... or that they are secret and cannot be provided to me."

He was also told the outcomes of investigations into soldiers suspected of unlawful killings were not tracked in Afghanistan, so it was hard to know if anyone was held accountable.

Alston added that it was "absolutely unacceptable" for foreign intelligence units to be "conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them."

These units, operating mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan, were working outside of the international military and the Afghan government structures, he said. He could not say which nationalities were involved or for whom they worked.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups were estimated to have killed about 300 civilians in the past four months, roughly three-quarters in suicide attacks, the rapporteur said.

Alston said he had been told not to meet with Taliban during his tour. But he recommended developing contacts with the rebels to urge them to comply with human rights law and to seek their views.

Alston also noted a government priority should be stopping unlawful killings by the police, as well as their technique of filing away inquiries so the claims of victims are ignored.

"Killings by police must end. The interminable dragging out of government investigations and inquiries until such episodes are effectively forgotten reinforces impunity."

In the same way, key figures in Afghanistan's government accused of rights abuses and corruption in the country's decades of conflict should with "no question" be put on trial.

Other similar calls have caused alarm in some circles, with the government wary of angering warlords who still wield power today and making little movement on a reconciliation and justice plan that calls for redress.

Alston said women were particularly affected by conflict gripping Afghanistan and that cases of "honour killings" were common, although there were no statistics.

He also called for a moratorium on the death penalty in the country, saying executions based on its "deeply flawed" criminal justice system would violate international legal standards.
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UN envoy: Foreign intelligence services behind spate of mysterious killings in Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI Associated Press / May 15, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Foreign intelligence agents are leading secret, deadly raids on militant suspects in Afghanistan and shirking responsibility when innocent civilians die, a U.N. rights official alleged Thursday.

Philip Alston, a special rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, referred to three such recent raids in the country's south and east. He appeared to imply American involvement.

Alston said the raids were part of a wider problem of unlawful killings of civilians and lack of accountability in Afghanistan. He said about 500 civilians had died so far this year, mostly at the hands of the Taliban but also the police.

The allegation came as a suicide bomber wearing a burqa attacked a police patrol in western Afghanistan, killing five police and seven civilians.

Alston did not give the nationality of intelligence operatives involved in the mainly nighttime raids on militant suspects, but he mentioned one raid in January that killed two Afghan brothers. He said it was conducted by Afghans and personnel from a U.S. special forces base in Kandahar.

He said Afghan government officials have said the victims had no connection to Taliban insurgents.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them," Alston told reporters after 12 days traveling Afghanistan.

He said foreign intelligence agencies were operating with apparent "impunity" in certain provinces where insurgents are active. He said such secret operations were "absolutely unacceptable."

Alston did not disclose his sources of information, but said he had met with senior government ministers, the chief justice, the Afghan intelligence chief, international military commanders across the country, members of civil society and tribal elders.

"Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services," he said.

"I am trying to encourage both the Americans and the Afghan government and others to take some of this seriously," Alston said.

Alston said there had also been raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar _ another hotbed of the Taliban insurgency and al-Qaida militants, where U.S. special forces and other American-led units operate.

Alston said such units are "composed of Afghans but with a handful at most, of international people directing it."

He said international military forces of all ranks that he spoke to either claimed to be unaware of the raids, said they would look into it or said they could do nothing about it.

U.S. military officials would not comment on Alston's allegations.

Despite Alston's accusation of secret raids, he said there was no evidence that international forces commit widespread intentional killings in violation of international humanitarian law.

NATO and the U.S.-led coalition have nearly 70,000 troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan and say they make every effort to prevent civilian casualties.

Reports of civilian deaths in military operations have reduced over the past year as foreign forces have taken more precautions in their targeting amid concern such incidents have dented public support for their presence in Afghanistan. But civilians are increasingly killed in suicide bombings launched by insurgents.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber wearing a burqa attacked police at a crowded market in western province of Farah, killing seven civilians and five police, and wounding 27 others.

Provincial governor said the bomber was a woman. The Taliban, who claimed the blast, said he was a man.

Militants launched more than 140 suicide bombings in the country in 2007, and many of those killed in the attacks have been civilians.

At least 1,200 people _ mostly militants _ have died in insurgency-related violence in 2008, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan and Western officials.
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Is Nato repeating the USSR's Afghan mistakes
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 15 May 2008
Twenty years ago today the tanks and armoured cars started to rumble north out of Kabul as the Soviet Union began its withdrawal from Afghanistan after eight-and-a-half years of war.

The mujahideen, backed by money and weapons from an alliance of the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, had beaten a world superpower.

Today the country is scattered with reminders of the Soviet occupation - you don't have to go far even in Kabul to stumble across the rusting wrecks they left behind.

The aptly named Zamir Kabulov first arrived in Afghanistan as a young Soviet diplomat in 1977 and has lived through the last turbulent 30 years of this country's misfortunes.

Same mistakes

Now he is Russian ambassador in Kabul and his voice of experience will ring in the ears of today's Nato- and US-led forces.

"There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan," Mr Kabulov said, listing the problems.

"Underestimation of the Afghan nation, the belief that we have superiority over Afghans and that they are inferior and they cannot be trusted to run affairs in this country."

His list goes on.

"A lack of knowledge of the social and ethnic structure of this country; a lack of sufficient understanding of traditions and religion."

Not only that, but he says they the country's new patrons are making their own new mistakes as well.

"Nato soldiers and officers alienate themselves from Afghans - they are not in touch in an everyday manner. They communicate with them from the barrels of guns in their bullet-proof Humvees."

And he admits to some satisfaction, watching those who once backed the mujahideen now suffering in the same way.

"To some extent, yes, I would not hide that. But I am even more satisfied by not having Russian soldiers among Isaf [Nato's International Security Assistance Force] because I don't want them to suffer the same results, implications your soldiers are suffering."

After the Soviet withdrawal the mujahideen turned on each other and tore Afghanistan apart.

Kabul crumbled in the civil war as the various factions rocketed at each other across the city, killing thousands of civilians.

'Killing innocents'

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a mujahideen leader and prime minister in exile during the 1990s, admits they failed in the years following the Soviet withdrawal.

He is now an opponent of the government who stood against President Hamid Karzai in the last election and also draws parallels between the 1980s and the current international mission.

"The Russians were beaten because they invaded our country. They were the transgressors, not us," he said.

And asked how the Soviet occupation compared to today's mission: "To my opinion the ground situation is no different because the Soviets were imposing their Communist regime on us. The present forces - they are imposing their so-called democracy on us.

"They were wrong then and the present Nato forces are doing wrong now by killing innocent people - men, women and children."

Nato commanders object to this and say they are doing everything they can to stop civilian casualties, arguing they are making military progress against the insurgents.

"They are winning the battles but losing the war," ambassador Kabulov said, explaining that things are even harder now than they were in the 1980s.

"The structures of government then were very much there and our task was very much was to support and to win loyalty - or, if you will, hearts and minds - but we had a working administration."

Fresh wrecks?

In Helmand province British forces in Kajaki are fighting from positions originally built by the Soviets.

There are wrecks of armoured vehicles rusting in irrigation ditches in the same places they are now fighting the Taleban.

They are fighting over the same patches of land.

"We didn't bother to collect the wrecks of our burned tanks and other vehicles but you do - you are more resourceful perhaps, or maybe you have fewer losses," the ambassador said.

"But if things continue going the wrong way, as they are now, come back in two years and you will find plenty of your own wrecks."

A negative, sobering but very well-informed opinion - and the kind that is often ignored.
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WHO confirms 'charmak' disease in Herat Province
KABUL, 15 May 2008 (IRIN) - Confirmed cases of hepatic veno-occlusive disease (VOD) - also known as "camel belly" or 'charmak' disease - in Gulran District of Herat Province, western Afghanistan, have surpassed 190, and 17 people have died so far, provincial health officials said.

Citing the result of tests at the National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said the disease was caused by exposure to pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in 'charmak', a poisonous weed believed to be growing mostly in grain fields in Gulran District, and which often finds its way into locally produced wheat flour.

According to WHO, regular consumption of bread contaminated by alkaloids contained in the weed can cause rapidly filling ascites (also known as peritoneal cavity fluid, peritoneal fluid excess, hydroperitoneum or abdominal dropsy) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascites], severe abdominal pain, vomiting and jaundice.

"VOD of the liver is a form of toxic liver damage caused by pyrrolizidine alkaloids," WHO said.

The outbreak of 'charmak' disease was first reported in November 2007. Of the 17 deaths six were men, six were women and five children, according to Herat's public health department.

"Thirty eight other patients are currently under medical testing which will determine whether or not they have 'charmak' disease," Aziz Noorzai, the head of Gulran hospital, told IRIN on the phone on 14 May.

"No magic pill"

Until early May local health officials did not know what medication should be given to 'charmak' patients to cure their illness.

Medical experts now say - based on the Netherlands test results - that two grams of sodium in the daily diet, the use of vitamin and mineral supplements, and the extraction of unnecessary liquids from a patient's swollen belly in serious cases, can save lives and treat the disease, according to Rana Graber Kakar, a WHO expert in Kabul.

"There is no magic pill for it," said Kakar, adding that technical research and studies were under way to illuminate characteristics of the disease and help the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to overcome similar challenges in future.

Rest is also recommended for long-term recovery, she said.

Food aid distributed

In an effort to curb the outbreak, the MoPH has launched a public awareness campaign in Gulran District through which people are encouraged to stop consuming locally produced flour.

But the drive has been received coldly by most of Gulran's poor populace.

"When we tell them not to eat Gulran flour, they ask what they should eat instead," said Noorzai.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it had distributed 700 tones of mixed food items to about 55,000 people in Gulran under food-for-work and education incentive schemes, and a further 860 tonnes would be distributed to 24,000 people in the near future.

An Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team has also delivered food and non-food relief items to vulnerable families, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement on 28 April.

Improved wheat cultivation needed

'Charmak' has appeared at least three times in the past 50 years - always in Herat Province - and had affected hundreds of people each time, according to local officials.

Health experts said the disease cannot be prevented through medical measures only, but that improvements in wheat cultivation, harvesting, threshing and milling - and enabling farmers to eliminate poisonous weeds in their fields - would help avert future outbreaks.

"In the long-term, the government needs to focus on agricultural policies that will reduce contamination of grain with Heliotropium ['charmac'] weeds," the WHO said in a weekly epidemiological monitor on 11 May.
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Russia, China, India seek Afghan anti-drug "belt"
By Conor Sweeney Thu May 15, 5:53 AM ET
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - China, India and Russia called on Thursday for the creation of a security belt around Afghanistan to halt the spread of heroin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a joint communique on boosting links between the three large developing countries would look at enhanced co-operation on humanitarian aid, fighting terrorism and combating drug trafficking.

"We discussed the situation around Afghanistan, where the drug threat emanates. It would help to build drug-secure belts around Afghanistan," Lavrov said after holding talks with his Chinese and Indian counterparts in this Urals city.

Afghanistan, devastated by three decades of Soviet occupation and civil war, accounts for 93 percent of world opium output, according to United Nations data.

Around 90 percent of the global supply of heroin emanates in Afghanistan, with output increasing since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

One of the main drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan lies across sparsely populated post-Soviet Central Asia to Russia. From there Afghan drugs make their way to Europe.

Lavrov, together with his Indian and Chinese counterparts, said they wanted to boost cooperation after talks in Yekaterinburg. The city sits on a major geographic division alongside the Ural mountains that divide Europe from Asia.

"I believe that against the backdrop of a multi-polar world it is necessary to advance cooperation between Russia, China and India, the three countries that are rapidly growing and enjoying strong economic growth," said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Yang said China wanted further expansion of cooperation with "more content and substance" that would cover sectors like agriculture, medicines and disaster relief. He did not specify how this would operate.

The next trilateral meeting will take place next year in India, said Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

He said India also wanted to boost its cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement countries which apart from China and Russia include four former Soviet Central Asian states.
(Editing by Robert Woodward)
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In Afghanistan, a road doesn't run through it, yet
Thu May 15, 2008 3:49am EDT
(Corrects "road" to "run" in headline) By Luke Baker
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 15 (Reuters) - Spend 30 minutes talking to a U.S. military officer in Afghanistan and chances are he or she will mention one factor as crucial to the stability of the country: roads.

Geographically challenging, with vast desert plains to the south and soaring mountains in the Hindu Kush to the north and east, Afghanistan is remarkably devoid of proper roads given its size and a population approaching 30 million.

There are just 34,000 km (21,000 miles) of useable roadway in the country, of which less than a quarter is paved, according to the CIA World Factbook. By comparison, there are about 10 million km of paved roads in the United States.

Better roads are essential not only for the economy -- so that farmers and merchants can get produce to markets more easily and importers can bring vital foodstuffs into the landlocked country -- but also for security, since police and the army can get more quickly to remote, unstable areas.

Paved roads also make it much harder for the Taliban to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- nearly 750 of which detonated across Afghanistan last year, causing hundreds of deaths. Planting them on pot-holed, dirt tracks is easy.

"I can't tell you how important roads are," said Colonel Pete Johnson, the commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan, where development lags central and northern areas and paved roads are minimal.

"If we pave roads, there's almost an automatic shift of IEDs to other areas because it makes it so much more difficult for the enemy to emplace them ... Roads here mean security," he told Reuters in an interview last week.

About the only people more insistent than the Americans about the importance of roads are the Afghans themselves, fed up with vehicle-destroying 12-hour journeys to the next major city when a paved road might get them there in under three.

And yet, six years after the United States overthrew the Taliban, comparatively little appears to have been done to improve the network, especially considering how much money has been thrown at it and how important everyone agrees it is.

JOB CREATION
Since 2002, USAID, the organisation through which the U.S. government channels the vast majority of its aid to Afghanistan, has spent $1 billion building 1,700 km of new paved road. Security, "capacity building" and overheads have accounted for nearly a quarter of the cost, according to a USAID official.

The construction works out at $580,000 per km, and with at least two of USAID's upcoming projects the cost will approach $1 million per km, according to the group's own figures. By comparison, the U.S. army corps of engineers budgets $250,000 per km for building paved roads.

Part of the reason for the high price tag is the cost of security, but also the tiered nature of the projects -- USAID subcontracts a major foreign company to do the work, which subcontracts part of it, often to an Indian or Turkish company, which subcontracts local Afghan labour to dig and lay the road.

The contract-awarding process takes time, as does design and planning. The longer the delays, the longer Afghans, around 70 percent of whom are unemployed, remain out of work.

A programme on Afghan TV jokes about the poor quality of the new roads, but then points out that perhaps foreign contractors do it on purpose -- if the roads need mending soon after they are built, more Afghans will end up with jobs.

The latest, much-awaited project is to build a 101 km road from Khost, in southeastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, to Gardez, a city southeast of Kabul, where the road will meet up with the already-paved Kabul-Gardez road.

The project is crucial because Khost, often isolated in winter, will become a key transit point for imports from Pakistan, and occasional exports from Afghanistan, greatly shortening the journey time for international trade.

The $98 million project, due for completion in October 2009, was due to kick off this month. But Louis Berger, the American company subcontracted by USAID to do the work, did not turn up to a meeting with local Afghan officials to inaugurate the road because it did not have sufficient notice to plan security.

USAID said the meeting was rescheduled and took place on May 11. Work has still not begun, but Afghans in the area, many of whom are prepared to work for as little as $3 a day, are excited about the prospect of long-term employment.

"The contractor is currently mobilising equipment and resources to the site," a USAID official said of the project. (Editing by John Chalmers)
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Afghans, troops pave way to safer road
Work being done on route by locals could mean difference between life and death for Canadian soldiers
KATHERINE O'NEILL May 15, 2008 The Globe and Mail
BAZAR-E-PANJWAI, AFGHANISTAN -- Road construction at this time of year is a fact of life around the world, including war-torn Afghanistan.

However, work being currently done by a small army of Afghans on a key dirt road that snakes through the Panjwai district could mean the difference between life and death for Canadian soldiers deployed to the volatile area.

In many respects, the front line in the war in Afghanistan is on its dirt roads because Taliban insurgents use them to hide improvised explosive devices. The majority of the 84 Canadians killed in the conflict died in roadside bomb attacks.

"First and foremost, this will give soldiers more freedom of movement," said Captain Guy Dumont, a Canadian soldier helping to supervise the major road-construction project. "It's not hard right now to blow one up."

The military has hired about 320 Afghan men, mainly from the Panjwai district, a region where unemployment is rampant, to construct and pave the road - a move that will make it harder for the Taliban to hide bombs. More workers are expected to be hired after the poppy harvest finishes later this month.

However, getting locals safely to the construction site and protecting them while they are there has been half the battle.

Capt. Dumont said some of them have been targeted by Taliban insurgents, and security is a daily major concern. At least one worker was shot on his way to work earlier this year. The Canadian military paid for his medical bills.

On April 12, the heavily guarded construction work site, which is located about 40 kilometres southwest of Kandahar, was hit by a rocket.

There's also been a problem with violence breaking out between workers. Some have gotten into fights, once even over a bet about a sandwich.

The project, which started in February, has been painstakingly slow because most of the back-breaking work has been done by hand in 40-degree weather and the majority of men had to be trained on the job.

While the Afghans have been issued gloves and reflective belts, they refuse to wear construction boots and helmets.

All the construction materials have to be trucked in from Kandahar Airfield. A hard-to-find cold pavement that had to be ordered from South Africa has yet to arrive. The paving, which has to be done with shovels, is expected to start early next month.

The first stage of the project is expected to cost $4.5-million, and pay for 6.5 kilometres of road to be paved. So far, only about 700 metres have been prepared.

Capt. Dumont said the Canadian government, which is paying for the project, could have done the work itself a lot faster, but would have missed out on the opportunity of employing so many Afghans and boosting the local economy.

He added the Canadian government also wanted it to be built by local Afghans because in the long run the road is for them.

The military hired a local Afghan to recruit workers. While one of the goals is to hire young jobless men who are at risk of being recruited by the Taliban, their workers range in age from 13 to 92. The military has had to turn away boys as young as 10 who want to work on the road.

Workers receive about 300 Afghanis a day, the equivalent of $6, which is the average wage for a local general labourer. About 95 per cent are illiterate so the military uses a fingerprint system for workers to pick up their paycheque every Thursday.

Each Afghan carries a photo identification security card that lists his name, height, weight and even the tribe he belongs to. They are searched every morning before entering the work site, which is under the constant watch of Canadian soldiers.

Habibullah Muhammad is one of the oldest workers. The 80-year-old said six of his seven sons are dead - all killed in fighting over the years - and he had to go back to work to support his 14 family members. His remaining son is 10 years old.

"This money is for my family so we can eat and buy clothes," he said. Like many of the other older workers, he's assigned to traffic control.

All workers are provided water and lunch, a selection of rice, bread and meat. They are also given time to pray in a roadside mosque, which is effectively a small compound with walls that are built to knee level.

Before they leave for the day, workers can visit a military medic. Most line up to get aspirin or face moisturizer. However, some complain about long-term ailments and dental problems.

Sergeant Adam Bell is in charge of four work crews totalling 100 men.

"This is very rewarding. I'm actually outside of the wire doing something that will be here for a long time," said Sgt. Bell, an Edmonton-based soldier.

While the project has several interpreters, Sgt. Bell has learned several Pashto phrases such as "How are you?" and "It's quitting time" so he can speak with his workers.

"We are not building the road, they are," he said.
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Afghan army units ready for bigger security role: commander
By Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Canada's painfully patient strategy of letting the fledgling Afghan army take the lead in the field is paying dividends and could soon expand to include more troops and territory, said the outgoing commander of Canadian troops in the region.

Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche said the development of Afghan National Army units has come along quicker than he expected during his 10-month tour.

Although a long way from being the equal of a western fighting force, Afghan army troops are now in charge of "the most difficult piece of ground in southern Afghanistan," Laroche said in an interview before handing over command to Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson on Wednesday.

One Afghan army battalion, or kandak, has been responsible for security in the Zhari district west of Kandahar since January.

"What we have seen the past four months is remarkable," Laroche said. "They are taking the initiative. They are very proactive." At this rate, Laroche said, another battalion of roughly 650 Afghan soldiers could be ready by the fall to take over in Panjwaii district - another Taliban hotbed where much Canadian blood has been spilled.

The current Canadian battle group, mostly troops from 3rd Battalion Princess Patricias' Canadian Light Infantry, has increasingly played a support role to Afghans who have planned and executed their own successful operations against militants. Canadian troops seeing the most action belong to the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams that train the Afghans.

The strategy has seen a levelling off of Canadian casualties in recent months, taking much of the political heat off Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Coming out of last month's NATO summit in Bucharest, Harper said he believed the riding death toll among soldiers was what troubled Canadians the most about the Afghan mission.

Since becoming involved in Afghanistan in 2002, 83 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed. The latest, Cpl. Michael Starker, 36, a Calgary medic, died in an ambush near Pashmul, in Zhari district.

Laroche and his Afghan counterpart, Brig.-Gen. Gul Aqa Naibi, have asked separately that the Afghan defence ministry in Kabul consider sending more units to Kandahar as soon as they equipped.

Naibi has formally requested two additional battalions within the last week.

The pace at which the Afghan army would be ready to take the lead in the field became a huge political issue in Canada last year.

Former defence minister Gordon O'Connor said he believed it would happen by February of this year, but Chief of Defence Staff Gen.

Rick Hillier gave a more cautious estimate that was seen as contradicting his boss.

The Taliban were swept from power by the U.S. invasion in 2001 following the attacks of Sept. 11. But they have maintained a stubborn insurgency in various parts of the country, challenging the authority of the Kabul government.

The Afghan army has been a work in progress. The plan is to raise 70,000 government troops by the end of 2008, but the Afghan defence minister has suggested as many as 200,000 would needed for long-term security.

The emergence of the 1st Brigade of the Afghan 205 Corps as a disciplined, lethal unit under Canadian mentoring counts as one of Laroche's most prized accomplishments during his time in Afghanistan.

Col. Abdul Bashir, commander of the brigade, said he is hopeful his request for more troops will be granted.

"If I get two more kandaks (battalions) I will provide security for (the) whole province," Bashir said Wednesday.

Laroche, who made his pitch for more Afghan troops in Kandahar through his superiors, tried to temper expectations by saying he wasn't sure the request would be answered soon.

The increasing ability of the Naibi's units as well as the presence of 3,200 U.S. marines, who have been fighting pitched battles with Taliban militants in neighbouring Helmand province, will allow the new Canadian commander to concentrate on reconstruction.

Parliament voted to extend Canada's military presence in Kandahar until 2011 as long as the focus shifted away from combat.
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China seeks an Afghan stepping-stone
By Tariq Mahmud Ashraf May 16, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
The resurgence of great powers' interests in Central Asia in recent years is reminiscent of the Great Game that ensued in the region in the 19th century between Czarist Russia and Imperial Great Britain.

Afghanistan's geographic location has made it a much coveted strategic pivot in the current Great Game. Notwithstanding the similarities between the two periods, some stark differences stand out prominently: one, there are now significantly more stakeholders in Afghanistan's security (United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, India and China); two, while the first Great Game was precipitated primarily by Russia's quest for access to the warm waters and the creation of a buffer between British India and

Czarist Russia, the stakes now include oil, hydropower sources, strategic metals, pipelines, transit routes and access to markets.

These significantly higher stakes have led to Central Asia assuming military, geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic significance for two major blocs - one led by the United States (North Atlantic Treaty Organization - NATO) and the other by China (Shanghai Cooperation Organization - SCO) - vying for influence in the region with seemingly dissimilar interests. "China needs them, Russia wants to control their distribution, and Western powers want to ensure they are not monopolized by Moscow or Beijing," as a USA Today report of December 15, 2007, said.

Afghanistan's strategic location between Central and South Asia is of immense geostrategic significance for the landlocked countries of Central Asia and its prosperity is inextricably linked to the security situation in Central and South Asia. Immense energy resources and strategic location on China's western frontier have led to Central Asia being referred to as China's dingwei (Lebensraum) [1].

China's interests in Afghanistan
The present regional order prevailing in Afghanistan and Central Asia is similar in some ways to what transpired in Europe after the end of World War II. The United States and Western European powers, under the NATO umbrella, desire strengthening their presence in the region to counter the growing power and regional influence of both China and Russia while China, like the erstwhile Soviet Union, is aspiring to extend its security perimeter westward by developing close links with the countries in the region and ensuring unhindered access to the energy resources therein.

Some Indian analysts are convinced that China is engaged in a "creeping encirclement" of their country [2]. They see Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran forming the right or western pincer of this move, Bangladesh and Myanmar making up the left or eastern pincer with Sri Lanka acting as the southern anchor and completing the encirclement.

India's recent overtures toward Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia and the development of close ties with these countries appear to be aimed at weakening China's right pincer and denying Pakistan a secure western frontier. Afghanistan figures prominently, therefore, in Chinese and Indian foreign policies. In fact, the decision to establish the first-ever Indian military outpost on foreign soil at the Farkhor air base in Tajikistan, just two kilometers from the Tajik-Afghan border, could well be perceived as an attempt to reduce the impact of the Chinese encirclement.

According to a Chinese military journal, India's forays into Afghanistan and the Central Asian arena are "designed to achieve four objectives: contain Pakistan; enhance energy security; combat terrorism; and pin down China's development" [3]. As in the past, Afghanistan has once again emerged as the "strategic knot" for the region's security.

Afghanistan's significance for China is also due to the latter's imperative of ensuring Pakistan's security. Pakistan, which is China's foremost ally in South Asia and has been instrumental in China's emergence on the global scene, has been constrained by its lack of geographic depth. Often referred to as Pakistan's lack of strategic depth, this has been touted as a major weakness in Pakistan's military confrontation with India. Pakistan's military considers that a friendly Afghanistan bestows additional strategic depth to the country - this was one of the factors that led to Pakistan supporting the emergence of a "friendly" Taliban regime in Kabul.

An adversarial regime in Afghanistan is perceived to be denuding Pakistan of this strategic depth and could also impinge on Pakistan's security by making it contend with two simultaneous threats. Since ensuring Pakistan's security is an imperative for China, it would view any Indian ingress into the country with wariness, concern and caution.

China, like Czarist Russia, yearns for access to the Indian Ocean and the plan to build a major port in Gwadar on Pakistan's Mekran coast is a step in this direction. This port would enable China to project its military presence in proximity of the strategic global petroleum shipping routes as well as the oil-rich Middle East. The economic feasibility of Gwadar as a shipping hub would be significantly enhanced were it to be linked to Central Asia and China by road and rail links. Once again, since all such transportation links between Gwadar and Central Asia have to traverse through Afghanistan, the focal importance of the latter cannot be understated. According to the US Energy Information Administration, "Afghanistan's strategic location could make the country an important pipeline transit route." [4]

The vast expanse of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, which is inhabited by the Uyghur Muslim minority, poses a security predicament for China. Since the Uyghurs have strong religious and ethnic traditional links with the natives of Afghanistan and the neighboring Central Asian Republics (CARs), China is very keen that the militant Islamic ideology of extremist elements such as the Taliban be prevented from spilling over into Xinjiang.

Additionally, the presence of sizeable Western military forces in Afghanistan is also a source of major concern for China [5]. China was a major actor in the Afghan civil war and a key supplier of small arms to the insurgents in the combined US-Pakistan effort to force a Soviet withdrawal from the country. "Current Chinese interest in Afghanistan, given its continuing civil war and virtual statelessness, is low and relations are weak." [6]

This interest, however, would certainly grow once the situation stabilizes since China's security imperatives directly translate into its interest in a stable and moderate Afghanistan that is also free of Western military presence. In line with its earlier practices, China is exhibiting a policy of patience toward Afghanistan and simultaneously making imperceptible inroads into the country through growing economic relations and investment. These overtures would place China in an influential position in Afghanistan once the Western militaries eventually withdraw from the country.

In an indicator of China's growing involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, during his visit last month to China, indicated a desire for China, Russia and the SCO to play a more positive role in bringing stability to Afghanistan, but without getting into a conflict with the United States and NATO.

China's booming demand for energy and mineral resources, plus its growing dependence on imported petroleum, has made Beijing increasingly concerned with ensuring supplies of reserves and the uninterrupted flow of oil at reasonable prices [7]. The resource-rich CARs, having estimated oil and gas reserves of 23 billion tons of oil and 3,000 billion cubic meters of gas respectively [8], have great geo-economic significance for China as a source of fossil fuel.

While Afghanistan has no proven fuel deposits, it nevertheless offers the easiest transportation route for the exploitation of the energy resources of the CARs and is predicted to have substantial non-fuel mineral resources essential for China's industrialization [9]. This geo-economic significance of Afghanistan for China should not be understated considering the latter's serious interest in the Caspian Sea hydrocarbon resources and the growing Sino-Afghan trade which reached $317 million in 2005-06.

China has also evinced an interest in a pipeline to the Arabian Sea, with a view to importing gas and oil by supertankers from Gwadar, but it should be noted that the Gwadar port project is still severely debilitated by the absence of links to access the hinterland from the port [10]. As another option, China is considering transporting its energy shipments from Central Asia and the Middle East via tanker to Gwadar and then by pipe or truck to western China through the Karakoram Highway (KKH) [11].

Pakistan as a trade and energy corridor
The second option falls in line with what the Pakistani leadership has been harping on for the past few years - their vision of exploiting Pakistan's geography as a Trade and Energy Corridor (TEC) for China and other neighboring countries including India.

Just last month, Musharraf told a student audience at Beijing's Tsinghua University, "Pakistan is very much in favor of a pipeline between the Gulf and China through Pakistan and I have been speaking with your leadership about this. I am very sure in the future - it will happen." Musharraf further elaborated that he envisioned improved road linkages between the two countries as well as a rail link, a fiber optic communications link and energy pipelines. He also suggested the possibility of extending the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline to China.

Interestingly, on the same date that Musharraf made this speech, the Indian government announced the visit of its petroleum minister to Islamabad to negotiate the possible extension of the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline to India and renaming it as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Although senior Pakistani leaders have repeatedly alluded to the proposal for the construction of an oil and gas pipeline connecting Pakistan and China, there has been no official response or statement yet on this suggestion from the Chinese leadership. Despite the evident potential of the TEC that Pakistan has to offer to China, the latter has, at the declaratory level, shown only marginal interest in the idea till very recently when China has started evincing a strong interest.

Notwithstanding China's reticent and non-committal position on this specific proposal, it is continuing support and participation in the major infrastructure projects in Pakistan that could be construed to be components of the TEC. China's commitment to the construction of Phase II of Gwadar port, the new international airport at Gwadar, the upgrading of the KKH and interest in investing in an oil refinery and storage facilities are examples that substantiate the Chinese interest [12].

This involvement of China in major infrastructure development in Pakistan leads to the assumption that while there is no categorical commitment on the TEC by China, it can be said with some confidence that it will support Pakistan's initiative, while maintaining a low profile, because of political and strategic considerations. For ease of analysis, the proposed TEC could be split into two distinct sectors for development: a Trade Corridor and an Energy Corridor.

The Trade Corridor's starting point is the existing Karakoram Highway. A decision to upgrade the 335 kilometer KKH was taken during Musharraf's visit to China in February 2006. The envisaged upgrade would widen the KKH from 10 to 30 meters, make it suitable for long vehicles and allow it to remain functional the entire year. In parallel with the KKH upgrade, China is also involved in the construction of a new rail line linking Gwadar to the main Iran-Pakistan rail line and is working with Pakistan to expedite customs over the Sino-Pakistani highway with a view to creating a stronger regional trade system.

On the Chinese side, a new extension of the Xinjiang railway up to Kashgar (about 500 kilometers via the KKH from the Sino-Pakistani border) has been completed while Pakistan has reciprocated by building a dry port at Sust on the KKH, which was inaugurated by Musharraf on July 4, 2006 [13]. In another related development, Iran has offered Pakistan land access through its territory to Central Asia and Afghanistan for trade in return for similar access to China through the KKH [14].

A railway line along the KKH is also being considered as an integral part of the TEC project. This would be used not only for trade purposes but also to transport energy, in case a pipeline is not a viable option. This rail track will be linked to Gwadar, where oil-refining and storage facilities are planned to be constructed by the Chinese. Pakistan has shortlisted a Chinese and a European firm to conduct the feasibility study for this 1,000 kilometer rail-track.

In Pakistan, the 750 kilometer track starts from Havelian and passes through the Karakoram mountains up to the Pak-China border at Khunjerab with the second part, consisting of a 250 kilometer track being constructed inside the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Experts estimate that this project could take 10 years to complete and cost around $5 billion [15].

While the envisaged Trade Corridor comprising of road and rail links could also be utilized for the transportation of oil and gas, a more efficient means of transporting these commodities would be through pipelines. These would make up the Energy Corridor component of the TEC. In an address in Islamabad on May 23, 2006, former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said, "Pakistan and China are considering a feasibility study for an oil pipeline from Gwadar port to western China to transport China's oil imports from the Gulf. An oil pipeline from Gwadar to western China would greatly reduce the time and distance for oil transport from the Gulf to China. A major oil refinery at Gwadar would further facilitate China's oil imports."

The Pakistani government presented a blueprint of the 3,300 kilometer Karakoram oil pipeline during the first meeting of the Sino-Pak Energy Forum held at Islamabad from April 25-27, 2006. This proposal entails the construction of a 30-inch diameter pipeline from Gwadar till the Khunjerab Pass capable of handling 12 million tons of oil per year with an estimated construction cost of between $4.5 and 5 billion [16].

China has also recently shown interest in reviving the dormant UNOCAL pipeline project to pump natural gas from Turkmenistan to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan. This could also then be extended to China just like the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline. Additionally, China's Exim Bank is financing an oil pipeline from Port Qasim in Pakistan's south to the country's north. This pipeline would cater for 75% of Pakistan's future oil needs and it has been under construction by China's Petroleum Engineering and Construction Company since June 2006 [17].

Conclusion
China's strategic interests in Afghanistan are multi-dimensional, but in its view any substantial advancement in Sino-Afghan ties is contingent on stability returning to this war-ravaged country and foreign forces withdrawing from its soil.

Energy-hungry China is also keen on capitalizing on the convenience that Afghanistan and Pakistan offer for the exploitation of energy resources of Central Asia and the Middle East, and is working in this direction. As regards the utilization of Pakistan as a TEC, it appears that while the Trade Corridor could be expected to be established in the near future, the activation of an Energy Corridor would take an appreciable amount of time and could only be considered a long-term possibility because of the enormous costs involved.

For China, therefore, the stability of Afghanistan emerges as a priority while the prospects of Pakistan becoming a trade corridor are more promising than it becoming an energy corridor in the short and medium terms. Since the chances of China using Pakistan as an energy corridor are remote in the short term, it can be concluded that Pakistan should place equal if not greater importance on providing TEC facilities to its South Asian, Central Asian and West Asian neighbors, who are eager to tap Pakistan's TEC potential.

Notes
1. Tarique Niazi, "The Ecology of Strategic Interests: China's Quest for Energy Security from the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea to the Caspian Sea Basin," China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No 4 (2006) p 97-116.
2. John W Garver, "China's South Asian Interests and Policies," Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, prepared for panel on "China's Approaches to South Asia and the Former Soviet States". US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 22 July 2005.
3. Srikanth Kondapalli, "The Chinese Military Eyes South Asia," chapter in Andrew Scobell and Larry M Wortzel, Eds Shaping China's security environment: The role of the People's Liberation Army, US Army Strategic Studies Institute, October 2006. The author has cited this information from the editorial titled "India Participates in Central Asia" which appeared in Bingqi Zhishi, Issue 197, No 3, 2004, p 6.
4. See the US Energy Information Administration
5. "America's War on Terrorism and Chinese Strategy," published in China Brief, Volume 2, Issue 5, February 28, 2002 by the Jamestown Foundation.
6. Sujit Dutta, "China's Emerging Power and Military Role: Implications for South Asia," Chapter in In China's Shadow: Regional Perspectives on Chinese Foreign Policy and Military Development, Edited by Jonathan D Pollack and Richard H Yang.
7. John W Garver, op cit.
8. Asma Shakir Khawaja, "Pakistan and the 'New Great Game'," Islamabad Policy Research Institute Paper No 5, Published by Asia Printers, Islamabad, April 2003.
9. Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan. United States Geological Survey Report.
10. Tarique Niazi, op cit.
11. Fazal-ur-Rahman, "Prospects of Pakistan becoming a Trade and Energy corridor for China."
12. John W Garver, op cit.
13. Fazal-ur-Rehman, op cit.
14. Naqi Akbar, "Railways shortlist two companies for China rail link study," The Nation, November 16, 2006.
15. Fazal-ur-Rehman, op cit.
16. Ibid.
17. Stephen Blank, "China's recent energy gains in Central Asia: What do they portend?" CACI Analyst, October 31, 2007.

Tariq Mahmud Ashraf is a retired air commodore from the Pakistan Air Force. A freelance analyst on South Asian defense and nuclearization issues, he has authored one book and published over 70 papers and articles in journals of repute.

(This article first appeared in The Jamestown Foundation. Used with permission.)
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3 Italian soldiers wounded by roadside bomb in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-15 20:34:22
ROME, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Three Italian soldiers were injured in a roadside bomb attack near the Afghan capital of Kabul Thursday, according to Italian Defense Ministry.

Two of the soldiers suffered only minor injuries, while the third was said to have suffered a more serious but non life-threatening wound.

The attack took place in the early hours of Thursday in the district of Mushai, some 30 km from Kabul, where similar attacks have been carried out against Italian forces.

At the time of the attack, the three soldiers were on their way to Qal-et-Tanan village on a veterinary mission.

In order to combat extremist violence, Italian forces in the region have been engaged in humanitarian operations, including veterinary ones, to win over the local population and their tribal leaders.

Italy has almost 2,700 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Most of them are stationed in the western part of the country, where Italy commands the ISAF contingent.

Italy, which is responsible for the ISAF force in the regions around Kabul, is the fourth-biggest contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Editor: An Lu 
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U.S. Has Detained 2,500 Juveniles as Enemy Combatants
By Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 15, 2008; A11
The United States has detained approximately 2,500 people younger than 18 as illegal enemy combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a report filed by the Bush administration with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Although 2,400 of the juveniles were captured in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, only 500 are still held in detention facilities in that country. The administration's report, which was made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, says that most of the detained Iraqi youths were "engaging in anti-coalition activity."

As of last month, 10 juveniles were still being held in Bagram, Afghanistan, out of 90 that had been captured in that country since 2002, according to the report.

Eight juveniles were brought to Guantanamo Bay since 2002, having been captured at ages ranging from 13 to 17. Although there are no juveniles at the prison in Cuba now, two people being held -- 21-year-old Omar Khadr and 23-year-old Mohammed Jawad -- were under 18 when they arrived. Both are facing trial by a military commission on charges of attempted murder.

Three of the other six juveniles once held at Guantanamo were sent back to Afghanistan in 2004, where they were put into a UNICEF rehabilitation program for child soldiers, according to the report. The last three juveniles were transferred back to their home countries.

The ACLU decried what is described as a "lack of safeguards" for youths captured by the U.S. military and "no comprehensive policy in place" for dealing with juveniles.

"Juveniles and former child soldiers should be treated first and foremost as candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not subjected to further victimization," Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's human rights program, said in a statement.

In Iraq, where the U.S. military holds more than 20,000 Iraqis in detention centers, the United States reported the average stay of a juvenile as less than a year and said a "majority of juvenile detainees are released within six months."

A "very small percentage," however, have been kept for more than a year because the juveniles were "assessed to be of a high enough threat level," the report said.

In August 2007, the U.S. military established a juvenile education center in Iraq. At that time, 820 juveniles were held in detention facilities in Iraq. In February, according to the U.S. report, a plan was approved to improve education programs available to juvenile detainees.
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Pakistan Truce Talks May Boost Afghanistan Attacks, NATO Says
(Bloomberg) By Ed Johnson May 15, 2008 
Truce talks between Pakistan's government and militants in the tribal region may be causing a rise in terrorist attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, NATO said.

The level of extremist violence in eastern Afghanistan last month was 50 percent higher than the same period last year and approached the peak seen during fighting in August 2007, spokesman James Appathurai said yesterday.

``The concern is that deals being struck between the Pakistani government and extremist groups in the tribal areas may be allowing them, the extremists, to have safe havens, rest, reconstitute and then move across the border,'' Appathurai told reporters in Brussels.

Pakistan's ruling coalition, elected Feb. 18, says it will use a combination of military force and negotiations to curb terrorism and began holding truce talks with the country's most prominent Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, last month. The policy has raised questions from Bush administration officials, who say previous truces let the Taliban step up attacks on U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime was ousted from Afghanistan by a U.S.- led coalition in 2001. NATO leads a force of 47,000 soldiers that is battling Taliban guerrillas in southern and eastern provinces and trying to stabilize the country under President Hamid Karzai's government.

Prisoner Swap
Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants exchanged dozens of prisoners yesterday as part of the truce talks with Mehsud, Associated Press reported.
Thirty militants from North and South Waziristan districts were freed in exchange for 12 government soldiers, AP said, citing unidentified Pakistani intelligence officials.

Mehsud is demanding the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the border region in return for a commitment to halt terrorist attacks and expel non-Pakistani militants.

The army said two days ago it had ``decided to readjust'' its positions in Waziristan, as Pakistani newspapers reported that troops were being pulled out of the area.

Pakistan's government said this week the truce talks won't undermine military operations in the tribal region, where U.S. intelligence agencies say al-Qaeda has established bases.

``The security requirements will not be abandoned or ignored under the policy,'' the official Associated Press of Pakistan cited Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq as saying May 8.

Militant Freed
Last month, authorities in North West Frontier Province freed militant leader Sufi Muhammad, the founder of a movement that seized control of the northern Swat Valley in October. Under the truce, he promised to respect government institutions so that order can be restored in the region.

Pakistan's new government, which faces public pressure to step back from cooperating with the U.S. war on terrorism, has said it is reviewing its counterterrorism policies.

Since 2002, President Pervez Musharraf has allowed the U.S. to target suspected militants in the tribal region using Predator pilotless drones.

A suspected missile strike late yesterday on a village in Pakistan's Bajur tribal region near Afghanistan killed about a dozen people, AP said. Local Taliban leaders had gathered for a feast at the targeted house in Damadola, the news agency said, citing villager Ibrahim Khan.

Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas couldn't confirm reports of the strike, AP reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net. 
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Strategic Policy Institute urges more troops for Afghanistan
ABC Online, Australia 15/05/2008
A key strategic policy body is recommending that the Federal Government boost troop numbers in Afghanistan, only weeks after another Australian soldier was killed there.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recommends in its report that more aid and more Australian soldiers be sent to Afghanistan now and that the Australian force make more of an effort to deal with the Pakistan border problem.

The institute argues that an increased effort now will speed up Australia's ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Australia currently has more than 1,000 personnel deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Since October last year, four Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan battling Taliban fighters.

The Institute's report says the Federal Government has spent more than $2.3 billion on Afghanistan since 2001.

But Raspal Khosa, a research fellow at the Institute and the report's author, says he thinks some of the allies' efforts are in vain.

He has recommended three changes to Australia's defence and aid operations in Afghanistan.

"Number one, focus on security sector reform - that's training capable Afghan security forces to take control of their own security sector, which ultimately expedites our withdrawal from that country," he said.
"Secondly, to improve the effectiveness of our aid commitment through coordinating and integrating our military and civilian resources.

"And three, to closely engage with our friends and allies, Pakistan. Pakistan acts as a safe haven for insurgents who are conducting operations in Afghanistan."

ISAF commanders recently asked for an extra 10,000 allied troops to deal with the insurgents.

Mr Khosa says even a modest commitment of 100 extra Australian troops could make a huge difference and he says there are dangers involved in withdrawing too early.

"The Australian troops act as a substantial force multiplier. When you're talking about additional troops you're also talking about thousands of extra Afghani troops and police, which is what's required," he said.
"Now if we put 100 troops in there, they will train thousands of extra Afghani troops. What you require are Afghans to actually hold the tactical advantages and gains that ISAF forces are reaching in Afghanistan.

"The problem is when you go in and you clear an area of Taliban, you can't hold that area because you haven't got sufficient local troops, and ... the Taliban will move back in there, so an additional 100 I think is a substantial force multiplier."

Issues around withdrawal
Mr Khosa says he cannot envisage western forces leaving Afghanistan within the decade, and he says a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would send the country back into the "internecine fighting and war-lordism" of the 1990s.

"You would get criminal groups exploiting the situation to traffic even more opium out of that country. Afghanistan currently is responsible for 92 per cent of the world's illicit opium," he said.

"You may ultimately get Al Qaeda and the Taliban regaining control of parts of that country if not the whole country, although I don't think that's a likely outcome, to use that as a base for terror once again.
"You would get large refugee movements out of that country. You'd get humanitarian crises. So it's not a pretty picture I paint."

He says Australia would not be immune from the fallout.

"We've seen in earlier years of this decade large numbers of refugees that moved out of Afghanistan into surrounding countries and ultimately numbers of those refugees ended up in Australia," he said.

"You're also getting more heroin from the golden crescent, which is the Afghanistan-Iran region, turning up on Australian streets, brown heroin, but that's becoming increasingly refined into China white.

"But you'd also get an export of terror into our region through groups such as Jemaah Islamiah and the Abu Sayyaf group."

Based on a report by Sabra Lane, first aired on The World Today.
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Sabit threatens to name and shame MPs
www.quqnoos.com Written by Qadeem Weyar Thursday, 15 May 2008
Attorney-general says MPs, some accused of murder, must still face trial
ATTORNEY-General Abdul Jabar Sabit has said 22 members of parliament accused of committing various crimes, including murder and land-grabbing, have yet to face trial.

Sabit threatened to release the MPs' names to the media unless they helped him with investigations into the allgeations.

The attorney-general said the MPs, who he refused to name, have been summoned frequently before his office to help police investigate the accusations.

He said during a press conference yesterday (Wednesday): “We have repeatedly sent letters to these MPs through Parliament’s administrative office, but we have not had any response.”

He threatened to release the names of the 22 MPs to the media unless they helped police investigate the allegations.

The head of the Lower House’s privileges and safety committee, Gul Pacha Majeedi, confirmed that the MPs had received official letters from the attorney-general’s office.

Majeedi said the attorney-general had the power to set the MPs a deadline for compliance and to then start legal proceedings against the MPs if they failed to meet the deadline.

Sabit also said two private television channels had continued to disobey the ministry of Information and culture’s order banning Indian soap operas.

He said Afghan TV and Tolo TV were still broadcasting the foreign serials despite the ban, and he threatened to start legal proceedings unless the private stations obeyed the ministry’s order.
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Men slice female presenter's arms with razors
www.quqnoos.com Written by M Reza Sher Mohammadi Thursday, 15 May 2008
Second attack on local journalist; governor says press freedom exists
MASKED men have used razor blades to slice the arms and hands of a female journalist in Herat on the same day that media groups expressed concern over the welfare of journalists in the province.

The attack, the second within the last week in Herat, took place yesterday (Wednesday) days after the men had threatened to kill local television presenter Nilofar Habib if she failed to leave her job.

“The men told me that if I didn’t leave the TV station, then I would be killed. Then they came and cut my arm with blades,” Habib said.

The attack comes only days after the governor of Herat, Said Hossain Anwari, was accused of beating the deputy controller of the local state-run television station.

Organisations set up to protect the rights of journalists have issued a five-point letter to the judiciary in Herat urging them to investigate the alleged beating of the province’s RTA deputy, Farhad Joya.

Herat’s governor said journalists and mass media workers enjoy more freedom now than at any other time in the past.

Anwari said: “I don’t think there’s any problem with working as a journalist in Herat. If they have a problem, they should come to my office and they should tell it to me. We will get the security forces to help them.”

Joya accuses Anwari of walking into his studio, swearing at him and then beating him up because he refused to hire one of the governor’s candidates as Herat bureau chief.

One local journalist in the province said: “I’m asking the organisations who have a duity to protect the media and from human rights groups to look into these cases and to do something about them.”
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Afghanistan: What hope is there for the lost children of the bazaar?
Their trade is almost as old as the hills that encircle the Afghan capital. But the lives of Kabul's rug-weavers reveal the fault-lines that scar this proud, complicated nation – and which condemn its people to poverty, desperation and addiction
Independent, UK By Deborah Orr Thursday, 15 May 2008
On Chicken Street, under the serene azure sky, it is almost possible to imagine that the last 30 years never happened. Kabul's craft market is open for business, its rows of glass-fronted, two-storey shops replete with the iconic wares of the hippy trail, that in the 1960s and 1970s found their way off this street and around the world. There are Afghan coats here, and hookahs. There are majestic kaftans here, and lapis lazuli jewels. There is brassware, and china, carved wood and turquoise pottery.

And there are rugs, of course, Afghan rugs, hand-knotted from the finest wool, gleaming in the perfection of the skill of their making, seductive in the symmetry of their ancient patterns. These rugs, piled high, bloody passionate red, inky solemn blue, creamy tender white, once adorned the floors of the most chic of the radicals who flocked here to buy. Why would they not? Afghan rugs, it is common knowledge, are among the finest in the world. For Afghans, ownership of such rugs is a symbol of status, and of wealth. The rugs are an important symbol of Afghanistan's nationhood, maybe even, in material and in cultural terms, the country's most iconic symbol of all.

The weird thing about this market though, is that it is almost too good to be true. The range and the quality of the artefacts is far greater than that found in most tourist markets in most countries. In part, this cornucopia simply reflects the wealth and diversity of Afghanistan's venerable ethnic culture, comprising more than 20 distinct groups. In the main, though, this plenty has piled up here because few tourists have come to pick it over for three decades now. The traders wait, with heroic patience, for customers to turn up and browse. But they are few and far between. Afghanistan – who doesn't know? – is one of the most dangerous countries on this earth. War has hollowed out this nation so thoroughly that even the rugs, one or two of them, have stories of violence to tell.

For there are war rugs here in this market, little rugs whose patterns have no symmetry, and whose subject is not timeless and abstract but horribly modern and direct. These rugs are illustrated with Kalashnikovs and B52s and helicopters and fighter planes. They have the Stars and Stripes woven into them, or Union Jacks. They have English words woven into them. USSR 1989. Invasion. Mujaheddin. Taliban. Twin Towers. USA 2002. Tora Bora. Racket. That should say Rocket. But there are a lot of mis-spelling on these rugs.

When the war rugs started to appear on Chicken Street in the 1980s, some luxuriously fastidious people found them to be in appalling bad taste. But others argued that the making of Afghan rugs is a living folk art, evolving with the times. Why should there not be rugs that described the hellish present? Why not, indeed?

The nearest thing to these rugs that we have in the west, right now, is the work of Tracey Emin, those embroidered quilts and blankets with their own naive mis-spellings, telling the intimate story of the battles of artist's life and psyche. It's a valid connection. Emin's own ethnic heritage is partly Turkish. In Afghanistan, it is the Turkmen of the north who are the most celebrated of the country's rug-makers.

But it is, of course, not only the rugs that have stories to tell. Talk to the market traders, and their stories are all the same. They feel nostalgia for the boom times, when Kabul was thriving as a fly-in/fly-out tourist destination, before the Russian invasion. They each confirm that, despite the impression that it has remained untouched by the fighting that has razed so much of the city, Chicken Street has been comprehensively gutted by violent incursions three times as various factions have taken control of Kabul. These traders have had the fortitude to repair and rebuild their businesses each time, borrowing money and goodwill to do so, and living on hope.

Like most of the Afghans I met and spoke to, the traders have mostly abandoned their shops at some point or another, shut them up and taken refuge in Pakistan or, far more rarely in this part of the country, Iran. They returned, optimistic, when the Taliban was routed from the city and Hamid Karzai came to power. For a time, business was OK, as the early days of reconstruction brought foreign nationals flooding into the capital. But as the effort to rejuvenate the country, and make it secure, faltered, and became mired in bad faith and corruption, so did the appetite for souvenirs of the incomers.

Like pretty much everything else in Afghanistan, the rug business has been all but destroyed by invasion and civil war. Most of the rug traders fled to Peshawar, in Pakistan, and conducted what was left of their businesses from there. Now many of the rugs that are still classified as Afghan, are really made in Peshawar, sometimes by machine. But because of its talismanic importance, there were early efforts in Kabul to revitalise the rug business, and reclaim national ownership.

Najeed Zaraf Carpet Market is one of the new buildings that have been thrown up in the city. The idea, a good one, was to establish a fresh centre for the industry in the capital, and this large four-storey building, with its sunny courtyard surrounded by units housing 300 traders, has been operating for six years. Not much of the post-war construction in Kabul has been beautiful, though, and Najeed Zaraf, unhappily, is not an exception.

Afghan vernacular architecture is simple but lovely. It is practical, too – warm in the winter, cool in the summer. Traditional buildings are made of putty-coloured mud-brick, faced with mud and straw, pakhsa. Windows are wood-framed, simple and elegant, and on elaborate buildings lovely patterns are worked into the walls. It would have been a more considered tribute to the centrality of the rug trade to Afghan culture if a splendid building in this style had been created, in honour of the nation's great hopes of revival.

Instead, the place is workmanlike, concrete and breeze-block, a bit bleak. It's not quite the "desolate market, where none come to buy" of Blake's Songs of Experience. But it is still just one little example, among many, of the lack of care and respect with which so much of Kabul's fitful, messy reconstruction has been approached.

Haji Mohammedullah, the Peshawar returnee who runs the market, is not complaining too much. He says attempts to revive the rug trade have developed a little momentum now and that the export business, at least, is showing signs of returning to health. A third of purchasers are Afghans living in Europe or the US, while one in 10 are wealthier Afghans living in their home country. A quarter of buyers are foreigners in Kabul working for non-government organisations, and the rest are sold on to traders from Europe.

Part of what drives Mohammedullah to continue his work in the rug trade, he explains, is the fact that so many Turkmen depend on what he can sell for their livelihoods. He alone, he says, employs 3,000 weavers. "The people of the north survive because of carpet-weaving. If they don't make carpets, they will die of hunger."

He is right. In the north, it is remote, and the land has a high, salty, water-table. The people scrape by on subsistence farming, the sheep they used to keep to provide wool and sheepskin for those Afghan coats, mostly gone during the fighting and droughts. Now the wool is mostly imported from Belgium, and provided to the Turkmen by the traders. The farming men of the north can provide nothing beyond – or even sometimes approaching – the nutritional needs of their own families. All the cash that enters the homes of many Turkmen comes from carpet weaving. For many centuries, the work has been done by the women, in their homes. The Turkman husbands tend not to be traders themselves, because it is traditionally seen as wrong for the men directly to sell the creations of their wives. Slowly, one or two families are breaking with this tradition, Mohammedullah suggests, and the men and the women are cautiously exploring the practicalities of running integrated businesses themselves, as they had been to some extent starting to do prior to the Russian invasion, when the world coveted Afghan rugs.

Mohammedullah admits that carpet-weaving is a hard living. It takes six women, working flat out for 18 months to complete a carpet of 12 metres square, he says. The work, on primitive wooden or metal looms, is back-breaking and intense, and while Mohammedullah says that the profit on the carpets is shared 50-50 with the people who crafted them, he is reluctant to say what price a 12-metre square carpet might fetch. The traders have different prices for different people, and this trader is hopeful, quite naturally, that I might buy at a high price, as well as talk. "The work is so hard," he says, "that I see women working with tears in their eyes."

There are no tears in the eyes of the weavers who sit four abreast, straining to see in the gloom of a little room without electricity on the outskirts of the city, nestled in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. There is only unblinking concentration, as the metal combs and stubby scissors flash in the nimble hands of the weavers.

They weave, pausing only to refer to their patterns, or reach up for the colour they need from the hanks of yarn dangling from the top of the loom. This work is hard: indeed, and these people are at it from when they awake at six in the morning until they sleep at 10 at night, seven days a week. They look away from their work, each of them in turn, only briefly, to divulge their names and ages. Nickbak is 16. Zahra is 14. Hahsma is seven. Mubraka is six. No women, no tears, no childhood, no present, no future, no life.

In Kabul, there is not an ideological problem with educating girls, as there is in many other cities, or in the vast rural swathes of the country where tradition dies hardest. It's just that these girls have more pressing ways to spend their valuable time. The indulgence of education is an investment for the long-term. These children live in the endless present, the monotone, unchanging trap of today.

It is utterly certain that these children are not among the 3,000 people that Mohammedullah says he employs. Their rugs are of neither the style nor the quality of the ones that he sells. The girls do not come from Balkh province, where the Turkmen live. They are from Wardak, in the centre, and their mother, a war widow, brought them to Kabul looking for work for herself and her family.

The city is awash with widows who have come with the same idea. It is one of Kabul's many problems, this influx of desperate humanity that has flooded the city with double, treble the people it ever housed before the Russian invasion in 1979.

Three-quarters of Afghans are almost completely illiterate. Among widows, the proportion is much higher. In the old days, it was incumbent on the families of the husbands to look after the widows. Whatever one might think of the practice, in theory, at least, it provided security for vulnerable people. But this is just one part of the social fabric that has collapsed, with nothing to mitigate that loss or replace it. There are too many widows now, too many fatherless children. Widows cast out from the homes of their in-laws, and their children, have nothing, not even a surname.

The mother of these girls has hands too stiff to work the threads and she leaves them at the loom while she works as a laundress. A trader has supplied the girls with a loom, brought them wool, tools and patterns, and shown them what to do. It takes the four of them 10 days to complete a square metre, for which they are paid 1,200 Afghanis per metre (US$24/£12).

For the horror of their labour, and the misery of their stolen childhoods, the children count themselves lucky. Kabul is awash with street children, hundreds of thousands of them, scavenging through rubbish, selling plastic bags, repairing bicycles, labouring for shoe-makers, or asking for alms in return for sending unwelcome wafts of aromatic smoke from the tin cans they wave at likely-looking passers-by.

These girls, comparatively, are big earners. A teacher employed by the government can expect to earn 3,000 Afghanis a month. All government wages, even for skilled professionals, are laughably low, and this is barely enough to subsist on. The giant influx of foreign workers has created a bubble economy in Kabul and prices have shot up. Property prices are so ridiculously high now that sometimes conversation in Kabul is tragicomically close to the stereotypically bourgeois chatter of an Islington dinner party. The child weavers hidden around Kabul may not even quite be making the rent on the tiny labour camps that are their homes and their worlds.

There is cash around, as can be seen from the flashy vehicles that teem in Kabul's gridlocked streets, or the so-called poppy palaces blooming in the suburbs. But it isn't establishing a sustainable economy. Afghanistan is abjectly aid-dependent, and the great challenge is somehow to find ways of turning that situation around.

The vast bulk of the reasonably secure white-collar work, especially for women, is with the government, ill-paid as it is. Alternatively and, in many ways, preferably, under the current conditions, the coveted post is with an NGO. Even the latter, almost by definition, is very far from secure. One of the frustrations of the reconstruction is that initiatives are started but too often not maintained, frequently stymied by the complex rules around aid funding, sometimes just by what can seem like arbritary policy changes. Already, after just six years, hopes of sustainable development are beginning to slip away.

Two young doctors, who have been working for the UK-based aid agency Islamic Relief, have travelled from Shortepa district, in Balkh, where they work among the Turkmen, those makers of the feted rugs of the remote north, to explain to The Independent what exactly, in basic, individual, human terms, that can mean.

Afghan men get a bad press, even though they are in certain respects as constrained by the clash of tradition versus modernity as the women, and even though very many of them, in the middle classes of Kabul, anyway, negotiate an Islamic life that is both progressive and devout.

These two men, Dr Mohammed Ehsan and Dr Mohammed Naseed, are people who would be admired in any culture, for their compassion, their humanity, and their grace. Friends from early childhood, both 29, they managed through all the years of war to achieve their shared ambition of qualifying as doctors. They were brought up in the north, although they are not Turkmen, but Uzbek and Tajik respectively. They were always appalled by the primitive conditions the Turkmen were enduring, though, and always intended to use their medical skills to help them. "They live like they are in the Stone Age", says Dr Ehsan, tugging on his shirt with passion, "Except that they wear clothes."

As for the romantic idea, promulgated in the market of Najeed Zaraf, back in Kabul, that the Turkmen got half of the price of a carpet, the going rate is $60 for a rug that takes three months to make. Before the war, things were better because western traders were coming to the region to buy rugs directly. The Turkmen were backward, but were moving forwards, benefiting from the fact that their skills were in fashion in the west, benefiting from the modernising ideas of a succession of rulers during much of the last century.

It was always an open secret in Afghan culture, tolerated, but with disapproval, that the Turkmen, who make up 3 per cent of the population, were culturally users of opium as pain-killing medicine. In the past, this habit was contained, however, because the Turkmen grew poppies only for their own private use. Even the women ingested opium, in order to quell the pain in their backs from weaving, and sometimes to quiet their children so that they could get on with their work.

Of course, even before the war, life for the Turkmen was challenging. Opium use has always been a symptom of the hard, poor, unevolving lives of this isolated minority. Yet the Turkmen are not among the Afghans who have turned to mass cultivation of poppies during the years of war. Even if they wanted to, the salty Turkman land is entirely unsuitable for the purpose. Paradoxically, in fact, Balkh is one of the regions in which opium growing has been more or less eliminated. But that wider shift in Afghan cultivation patterns, which has famously made the country into by far the largest producer of opium on the planet, has had a devastating effect on the Turkmen, nonetheless.

The community has now been exposed to heroin, and other processed drugs, even Valium, by dealers making their way up through Balkh, which was always relatively peaceful, and is now entirely so, to the border with Uzbekistan.

Often the dealers used the old trick, familiar in the West, of providing the first few hits for free. Not only is heroin far stronger and far more addictive than unprocessed opium, it is also sometimes injected, bringing addict diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C into a community that has no understanding of them. An astounding 90 per cent of the Turkmen are now addicted, and the cruellest thing of all is that their "medicine" is no longer free. Now they have to pay for it. Sometimes, now, the weavers are paid in drugs instead of money.

In response to this urgent tragedy, the two doctors have set up a drug rehabilitation clinic, part-funded by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and run by Islamic Relief. It has an outpatients clinic, a 10-bed residential facility and an outreach programme. A local landlord, the wealthiest man in his district, was persuaded by Islamic Relief to provide a building for the clinic for nothing.

The doctors and their colleagues go out to the villages, tell people that they can escape from the tyranny of addiction, and explain how they can help the villagers to achieve a drug-free life. The big cities have such clinics, too, for addiction has also hit the urban population, especially in Kabul. But this is the only rural area in which the problem is so concentrated and intense, and the Islamic Relief clinic is the sole one to be addressing the need.

The local response has been phenomenal. Already, in a year and a half, the reduction, detoxification, and follow-up counselling programme has signed off hundreds of people as drug free. Thousands of people are becoming interested in the programme, and the waiting list for residential treatment grows more impossibly long each day, with people travelling from other districts because they have heard about the clinic. The doctors always fretted that their charitable funding could not last for ever. But they did believe that if they proved they could effectively fulfil this urgent need, then the government would accept that this was the kind of project that should receive permanent, sustainable funding.

It hasn't happened yet. Worse, the UN has decided, under the auspices of its international programme, to switch the focus of its funding from drugs awareness to Aids awareness, even though the two issues are inextricably bound.

This has left Islamic Relief in a cleft stick. The charity desperately wants the programme to continue. But it needs other partners to that to happen. The doctors have not been paid for two months, the little funding they have left is running out, and the clinic is in peril of closing in weeks – or even days.

The doctors have not come to Kabul alone. They have brought some of their patients with them, so that they can tell their own story themselves. A family of three sits huddled on a sofa in the Kabul office of Islamic Relief, a little incongruous in their shabbily, grubbily ornate traditional dress, splendid in their strangeness. They are bewildered, tired, breaking tradition by sitting in this room of strange men and women from lands they have barely heard of, but so trusting of the doctors who have helped them so much, that they are willing, via translators, to tell their story, in Turkman, then Dari, and then finally in English.

Abdul Rahim is 57, and has been addicted to drugs for the longest. Fatima, his wife, who has never before left her village, is 43, and a weaver. She is dreadfully, clearly ill with tuberculosis, and sick from the privations of her life, the work, the addictions, the hunger, the pregnancies, the childbirth. She has hitched up her burqa to show her face, even though there are strange men, unrelated to her, in the room. She has had 23 babies, this silent, frightened woman, and only three have survived. Her two daughters, Fatima and Khadija, are married, but 13-year-old Abdul-Hamid still lives with his parents. He is the only child they have left living at home, this sweet, earnest boy, and he is being treated for drug addiction, too.

Long ago, as a young man, Abdul had ambition, and felt sure he could break out of the traditional ways of his people. He could write back then, he says, because he went to school until he was 13, then did further study with the mullah. Now, he says, after years on opium, then heroin, and whatever pharmaceuticals he could lay hands on, he has forgotten all he ever learnt. His son can write only his name. Abdul's family were relatively well off. His father farmed and kept sheep on a good-sized patch of land, and his mother and his sisters wove carpets. They were paid much better then than his wife is now, because the western traders were coming straight to the village to buy carpets. It is 30 years now since they have done so.

Abdul, when he finished his education, got himself a good job far away in Herat, working for the Communist government, after the coup. He commuted there during the week, and managed the fleet of ministerial vehicles. After the invasion, however, his village came under the control of the Mujahedin. They told him that if he continued to work for the enemy, then he could never return to his village, and his family. He chose to give up his job, and stay.

It didn't seem like a bad choice. He had a car, a tractor, and he had inherited, like his five brothers, 15 jaribs (three hectares) of land from his father. He thought that he could sit things out. But the conflict went on and on.

When he fell ill, Abdul couldn't afford a doctor, so he went to the hakim – the traditional medicine man – who gave him opium. When his wife became ill, he gave her the same treatment. By then the heroin had flooded the area and the two parents started using that.

They would send their children to pick up their drugs, and like naughty children everywhere, the little ones were curious. Abdul-Hamid and his sister Khadija got addicted; the last baby, Abdul-Aziz, was born addicted, and the family were selling all they had left, their car, their tractor, their land, to buy drugs. By the time the Taliban came, they had virtually nothing.

When they had money, says Abdul-Hamid, who is a bright, clever and confident child, by some miracle of human resilience, they often bought drugs instead of food. At one point, the family say, they were spending $12 a day on drugs. They took heroin for choice, and when they couldn't afford that they crushed tablets of Valium, and smoked them. When they couldn't get that, they smoked opium. In the end, with just a scrap of land left, they were starving. When Abdul-Aziz died, Abdul-Rahim went with his brother to Pakistan, in search of a cure. But it didn't work out, and they returned home.

After six months of attending the clinic, they are using only opium, on a harm reduction programme drawn up by the doctors. Abdul-Hamid, grasping his ear-lobes, leaps up from his seat and blurts out: "We have stuck to it completely, I promise, I repent, and I swear. Cut off my ears if I'm lying!" He is incredulous, the child, that the support of the clinic might soon be taken away. They all are. That's why they came to Kabul to tell their tale of woe.

But Abdul senior has a plan for the future, all the same. He is crossing his fingers, and hoping. "Before we were addicts, we were happy and proud of making beautiful things. Now our life is very miserable so we cannot make carpets well. When we give up using drugs we will be able to work hard again and make this industry more profitable."

Is Abdul's dream a foolish one? Or can the carpet business, like the nation itself, be reclaimed, rebuilt, shorn of its cruelty, and delivered to beauty?

Afghanistan has had its rugs of war, and now it needs rugs of peace. The Shortepa district drug rehabilitation clinic is a modest step in the right direction. It is a wise, humane enterprise, run by the people of Afghanistan, and for them. If it closes, a little chink of hope will shut down with it, for Abdul, for Fatima, for Abdul-Hamid, and for every single one of the 31 million people who call themselves Afghans.

Deborah Orr's visit to Kabul was organised and financed by Islamic Relief. For more information on Islamic Relief visit www.islamic-relief.com or call 0121-622 0663
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'20,000 people hooked on drugs in last year'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Shakeela Ibrahimkhil Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Many of the addicts are refugees returning from Iran, drug centre says
THE NUMBER of drugs addicts in the country has increased by 20,000 people over the last year, according to the Nijat Drug Addicts Treatment Center (NDATC).

Most of the addicts are Afghan refugees who have returned from Iran, the NDATC said, which treats about 50 to 60 new addicts every day in its Kabul-based centre.

The number of heroin and opium abusers has risen from 60,000 to 80,000 since last year, the drug centre said.

Many of the addicts say their employers in Iran encouraged them to take drugs, especially heroin and opium, so they could continue working when ill.

One addict said: “The Iranian who was my boss gave me some opium one night and said that I will recover from my illness if I take this so I can continue my work.”

Another addict in the center said: “I was a healthy and hard working man, but when I got addicted to drugs, I became unhealthy and even my family stayed away from me.”

The NDATC, which was established in 1982 to combat the rising use of drugs among the Afghans refugees in Pakistani camps, provides addicts with free treatment and teaches the victims of heroin abuse about the disadvantages of taking the drug.

Abdullah, another drug addict at the centre, said: “It is better to die, rather than to be a drug addict.”

A report released in March by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said about 120,000 women in Afghanistan take opium or smoke hashish – 20,000 more than in 2006.

Opium production was up last year by more than one third on 2006, according to the US state department.

About 93% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan, the state department believes, with most of the drug being grown in the south of the country in areas like Helmand.
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Education ministry jails students and teachers
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Protests against low wages and overdue salaries lead to 17 arrests
POLICE have arrested 17 teachers and students for going on strike to protest low wages and the government’s failure to pay salaries on time.

A group defending teachers’ rights said these teachers were threatened and then arrested by the minister of education without the required legal documents and that some of the teachers and students were still in jail.

The headteachers of Kabul’s Habibia, Ghazi and Esteqlal high schools are also among the prisoners, the the Teachers Salvation Foundation said.

The foundation’s spokesman, Mustafa Dost, said: “These actions are against the constitution of Afghanistan. If they have any claims of wrongdoing, then the ministry must give evidence to the international community.”

Three weeks have passed since the teachers’ strike closed the gates at some of the main schools in Kabul, leaving many students unable to attend classes.

The strikes, in protest at the government’s failure to pay wages on time and the low salaries received by many teachers, are still going on in Kabul and in many other parts of the country.

President Karzai has said the teachers’ demands for wage increases are justified and he has promised to increase their wages.

The president said: “Teachers have got very tired of the high prices of food and other problems, and they can’t feed their children.

“Therefore, we urged the international community to give us urgent aid so we can increase the teachers’ salaries. This will solve only a small part of the problem.”

Esteqlal High school was under police siege when our reporter arrived there yesterday (Tuesday) and police refused journalists’ requests for interviews with the teachers.

Teachers of Esteqlal High School have denied the charges laid at their feet by the minister of education, who says their protests are motivated by politics.

Teachers around the country have appealed for the release of the imprisoned teachers and students.

One of the students at Esteqlal said: “The teachers’ protest was peaceful and they must not be sent to prison.”

Some Members of Parliament have condemned the government’s actions, saying they are against democracy.

Badghis MP, Azita Rafat, said: “The imprisonment of the teachers is totally illegal, and such actions are not only against democratic values, but it is a step backward.”

MP for Ghazni, Daud Sultanzoi, said: “No one is allowed to detain some one without any investigation and without an order from the court.”
 
The ministry of education refused to comment.
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Kabulis told to stop using water heaters
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Department says using energy-saving light bulbs will bring power back
KABULIS should stop using water heaters and electric stoves if they want to have electricity in their homes at night, the capital’s department of electricity said yesterday (Monday).

Head of the electricity department, Muhammad Sarwar Sediqi, said cutting down on the use of electrical appliances and using energy-saving light-bulbs would give residents electricity every night.

“If the bulbs that consume less power are used by at least 180,000 people in Kabul, I promise that people will have electricity every night, even until morning,” he said.

About 72 megawatts of electricity could be saved every day if households were to use 20 watt bulbs instead of 100 watt bulbs in their homes, the department said.

The energy-saving bulbs would also reduce the price of people’s electricity bills by nearly Afg200 every two months, the department said.

Shops selling electrical appliances in the capital said many customers knew nothing about energy-saving light bulbs.

One seller said: “Eighteen and 24 watt bulbs have good light and are consume less electricity as well and they cost Af30, but the 100 watt bulbs cost Af10. Despite their higher prices, the 18 and 24 watt bulbs are much cheaper in the long run.”

Recently, Kabul residents complained about the lack of electricity in the capital, claiming they only received a few hours of electricity in a 48-hour period.

The Minister for Energy and Power, Ismail Khan, has blamed this on the lack of water flowing through the hydro-electric dams that feed the city.

Kabul needs about 200 megawatts of power to feed the grid every day, but the hydro and thermal electricity capacity is currently only 127 megawatts.
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